For what was recognized as the first genocide of the 20th century, in which thousands of men women, and children were starved, tortured and/or gunned down by German troops working to quell rebellious tribes in what is today Namibia, the European nation is finally in talks to discuss possible reparations to descendants of the massacre’s victims.
Mediation between German and Namibian governments over reparation payments, as well as an apology, to descendants of the plundered Herero and Namaqua people are expected to be completed before next June, according to The Guardian. The discussions are the latest move by Germany to atone for its role in the heinous massacre, while also raising global awareness of the genocide, which has become largely forgotten in both Europe and Africa.
The mass killing of the Namibian people was sparked by a 1904 rebellion by the Herero tribe against German troops, as European forces moved in on the Southwestern region of Africa to confiscate the land and create new colonies. Over a hundred German civilians were killed in the Herero rebellion that year. Peoples of the smaller Namaqua tribe joined the uprising the following year.
Racially motivated violence ensued as tens of thousands of Herero were forced out of their land and into the Kalahari desert by German troops. Many Namibians were starved to death as their water supply was poisoned and their food supplies cut off. German Gen. Lothar von Trot commanded his men to shoot any Herero they encountered, showing lno mercy to women and children.
“I do not accept women or children either. Drive them back to their people or shoot them,” read von Trot’s order, which was later rescinded but replaced with equally deadly measures.
Those who survived the mistreatment were remanded to concentration camps where they were tortured and/or worked to death in putrid conditions. The Guardian reported that nearly half the Namaqua tribe also was killed off in the disease-ridden camps. Moreover, thousands of women were forcibly raped or taken as wives by European settlers, while many victims were beheaded and had their skulls sent to Europe to be examined for racial inferiority.
“We are talking now about the lives that were lost, the land that was taken, the cattle that was killed, the rape, the lost dignity, the culture that was destroyed,” Esther Muinjangue, a Herero activist and social worker at the University of Namibia, told The Guardian. “We cannot even speak our language.”
Germany formally recognized its role in the Herero genocide and vowed to issue an apology to Namibia back in July 2016, according to The Telegraph. At that time, there were no talks of reparations. A spokesperson from the German government said that since 2012, it had been seeking dialogue with the African nation over atonement for the atrocities committed by its troops during the colonial era.
“We seek a common policy statement on the following elements: a common language on the historical events and a German apology and its acceptance by Namibia,” said Sawsan Chebli, a spokesman for the German foreign ministry, in July.
That same month, Al Jazeera reported that a group of Namibian leaders, lawyers and heads of civic organizations traveled to Berlin with a petition signed by over 2,000 German officials demanding that the country take responsibility for its heinous massacre against the Herero and Namaqua peoples and grant them reparations.
The Namibian people have put increasing pressure on the German government to pay for its crime. For instance, in 2001, the Herero People’s Reparations Corporation filed a civil lawsuit with a U.S. court requesting $2 billion in reparation payments from the German government and several corporations, according to Al Jazeera. Their effort was unsuccessful at the time but brought much-needed attention to the brutality suffered by over 65,000 Namibians over a century ago.
The Namibian people’s quest for justice has been long fought and historians have argued that Germany’s willingness to possibly grant reparations could pave the way for a host of other African nations that suffered violence and mistreatment at the hands of European settlers.
“Reparation payments to Namibia could set a precedent for Belgium and the Congo, France and Algeria or Great Britain and the history of the slave trade,” Hamburg University historian Jürgen Zimmerer said. “Descendants of the Herero know that, too.